The moment I met a true Guru (and the world stopped).

Via on Feb 17, 2011

The word ‘Guru’ is one that I don’t like to use, because truth be told, we in the West don’t really understand it. It is a concept alien to our culture. Our use of the word in such phrases as ‘business guru’, ‘sex guru’, and ‘advertising guru’ demonstrates that. To us it often means something along the lines of ‘advanced teacher’.

In the East however, the word Guru has a much deeper meaning. It means ‘one who leads you to the light’. Wow! If you think about that, it’s quite a vague, almost open-ended meaning. To understand it fully, you need to think about it in terms of Eastern culture compared to Western culture.

In our Western culture we are taught the importance of independence. We are trained, educated, and conditioned to be independent consumers.

In the East, emphasis is on interdependenceand the spiritual foundation of Eastern culture means that every person is aware, from an early age, that evolution of consciousness is the purpose of life (as opposed to merely producing and buying ‘stuff’).

This promise of a deeper meaning in life is why our Western society is hungrily reaching out for Eastern spirituality. Many feel as I did as a child: starved of something essential to our development.

I grew up in suburban London in a middle class family, went to an expensive school, and literally felt throughout my childhood as if I was starving. I craved someone or something that could answer my inner yearning to make some sense out of life. However, the people who had any influence on this deeper aspect of myself were few and far between: a single school teacher who truly had a gleam in his eyes, and upon whose every wise and compassionate word I hung, stayed at the school only one year before the grey, dull, lifeless majority got the better of him. I remember the day he left. I felt as if a dagger had been plunged into my heart.

My Father was a spiritual man, but he was torn between his spiritual, creative inclination, and his business life. He never reconciled the two: I recall him telling me that he couldn’t tell any of his clients and employees about his lunchtime Tai Chi practice: he told them he was going to do some ‘exercise’ (acceptable) – in those days Tai Chi was for hippies.

So I was perhaps lucky that I had at least some taste of possibility, some guidance where others certainly had none. But it was not until I went to India, and that I realized that my childhood yearning was a mark of sanity, rather than flakey-ness!


As I sat on the steps of Trivandrum post office the day after I finished my yoga teacher training, I felt absolutely at home. At home in my body. At home in my self.

As I sat on those steps, full of love, silently chanting devotional songs of celebration and joy, an old man paused as he passed along the street below. He stood looking up at me as though he’d seen a ghost.

At that moment my contemplative bliss was broken as the old voice of doubt began to sing it’s song of fear:

“He’s probably a con man who thinks you’re a rich Westerner and wants your money”

So as he approached I held out my open palms, and stated clearly that I didn’t have any money to spare.

To my complete surprise he prostrated himself on the ground, face in the dirt, and touched my feet.

When he raised his head, he told me that he only wanted my blessing! I was a little dumbfounded. I asked him why he asked for my blessing and he answered:

“Because I see holiness in your eyes”

An old man prostrating himself before a young man. This was even stranger than the Indian boy who I’d made friends with a month earlier holding my hand as we walked along the beach – as if it was the most natural thing in the world – while I squirmed inwardly, feeling totally awkward.

But you see, the Indian culture (from which the word Guru comes) is almost the complete opposite of our Western culture. The foundation of our society is materialism, whereas theirs is grounded in spirituality.

So whereas here ‘respect your elders’ is absolute, there respect for your elders is tempered by respect for the more spiritually evolved (regardless of their age).

So I don’t like to use the word Guru. Most people don’t have a reference point for it here. Do you?

Tony Samara is a true guru though. A true guru wants nothing from you except your freedom. A true guru basks in the glory of absolute freedom, every cell of their body shining, every pore smiling, every word resonating, every thought a beacon of light.

A true guru is full of joy and celebration, and wants you to enjoy the party too! A true guru will not indulge you; will not feed your ego, or listen to your story, or play your games. He or she will remain utterly real and present, and illuminate all of your pretence. He will unmask you, and will not apologize for your discomfort.

My first meeting with Tony was about 4 years ago. I’d been a yoga teacher for quite some time, and experiences like the one outside the post office had helped reinforce my ego in an interesting way. I considered myself a teacher. I was holy. I was special!

So when I met Tony for the first time I wanted to make an impression. I’d heard that he was a great spiritual teacher, and subconsciously I wanted him to be aware when he met me that I was somebody too! Oh how this makes me laugh now thinking about it…

It’s difficult to describe in words the experience that I had, but I’ll try…

I was there on a Croatian Island in the hot summer sun to do a week-long retreat with Tony. My girlfriend Petra (now wife) had taken me, and she’d told me all about him. How during one meditation he’d somehow whispered (from a distance!) into her ear “concentrate on your heart” and she’d felt three loud ‘cracks’ in her heart, followed by tears of a deep emotional release from the past, mixed with boundless joy.

I had been anticipating this moment. So as Tony finally approached, walking towards us in his typical ‘shuffle’, arms hanging loosely by his sides, his body a perfect example of total relaxation, I became more tense.

He and Petra greeted each other, and I noticed the twinkle in his eyes, and felt his calm and absolute presence. I became more nervous.

Finally, he looked at me, and Petra introduced us. I stiffly held out my hand, and said something like:

“Hi, nice to meet a fellow Englishman”.

He looked down at my hand.

His gaze lingered on my hand, without his own hand being offered in return, for just a touch longer than would normally be considered polite, but my whole world simply stopped.

That short moment seemed to last an awfully long time! Time stretched out. I learned so much. Many lessons flooded my system. I realized how unconsciously I behaved. How many of my actions, thoughts, and words were simply games to mask my shyness, my lack of confidence, or my vulnerability.

The only reason I wanted to shake Tony’s hand at that moment was because I subconsciously felt that it would make us more ‘equal’. It might bring us together, and make me feel a little less nervous. It was an empty gesture.

Well, there’s no fooling someone who is totally present. They will see straight through you, and leave you feeling very silly. Which is exactly what happened to me then!

Tony finally offered me his hand, and as I gave a ‘good, firm handshake’, his hand was limp, like a dead fish. I felt ridiculous. I had in the past looked down on people that didn’t shake hands ‘properly’! But I couldn’t look down on this man – although he was surprisingly short in physical stature, his presence was huge! And his loose hand smiled, as his eyes smiled – with warmth, and humor, and humility. I felt like a child in front of him.

Tony spoke a little more with Petra and then excused himself, shuffling off again, completely relaxed, centered, and humble. He had not done anything. He had barely said anything to me. Simply by showing me what I was really doing, he had effortlessly taught me so much.

I feel tremendously lucky to have found a great teacher like Tony. He has helped me in many ways, many times (I’ll be writing more about that later), and I know that my development and evolution have been accelerated as a result. My yearning as a child is perhaps what brought me to him in the end. I refused to compromise. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life, but I knew with absolute certainty that I would not become like the majority of my teachers – grey, dull, cynical.

I am sharing him with you not because I want you to make me feel better about myself by joining my ‘club’. I’m not trying to ‘convert’ anyone. I don’t care what anyone thinks of me anymore!

I am sharing this because I know there are many other people out there like me who truly yearn to be free. And because I know that people, especially teachers, like Tony Samara are very, very rare.

Do you yearn to be free? What are your feelings about the word Guru? Do you know Tony?! Please leave a comment…


You can read more about my experience of Tony Samara, and watch a stunningly beautiful 3 min. video with his voice here.

To read more about my experience in India prior to the events outside the post office, read here.


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About Ben Ralston

Ben Ralston is a therapist, healer, advanced Sivananda Yoga teacher, and writer. His writings have been read by millions of people and can be found on Elephant Journal, Rebelle Society, and various other portals online. He has been teaching Yoga for 16 years in hotels, ashrams, beaches, gyms and rooftops worldwide. And he runs a busy international therapeutic practice from his home in rural Croatia. Offering sessions in person or via Skype, his therapeutic work is based on healing trauma, and the tools he uses for this are varied – mainly RPT, Shamanism, and energy work. He has also developed some of his own methods, particularly in the area of abuse trauma; ‘resource state’ awareness; and boundary reconstruction. He regularly runs retreats combining Yoga and other energetic exercises with his therapy. He would love nothing more than to see you on one of these retreats, since he believes that this approach to personal development is really the only effective way of bringing love and peace to global human society. Connect with Ben on Facebook. Read more of his writing on his new website with integrated blog! Yes, he's excited about that :)



49 Responses to “The moment I met a true Guru (and the world stopped).”

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Tony Samara, Red Fox. Red Fox said: The moment I met a true Guru (and the world stopped). […]

  2. ilanta says:

    OMG Ben! You write so beautifully.. thank you for sharing this moving story about your experience with tony … such a blessing to be working with him, isnt it? and it's wonderful you're introducing this possibility to other people who yearn for freedom … Will be watching out for more articles from you … love to your family :-)

  3. Wahido says:

    Beautifully written Ben, Thank you very much for the sharing! Tony is really an amazing spiritual master which shows us ALWAYS a totally different approach to live, an alive, mysterious perspective of how to address the spiritual and mundane aspects of life. Tony IS a challenge and at the same time a true gift to "use" as much as possible, as intensely as possible. A gift to keep very close to ones heart : ) as the breath connects us and the mantra clears the pathway to the light : )


  4. Ben Ralston Ben_Ralston says:

    Thank you Rahma, I'm looking forward to reviewing Tony's books here on Ele Journal.

  5. Olana says:

    Thank you Ben for sharing your story, it is so real and coming from your heart without this feeling of how much can i say about the way i was feeling.
    When i met Tony i was so nervous, my palms were sweating and i was thinking what should i say to Tony, should i shake his hand or give a hug, what to do. When our eyes met i felt as if i am standing naked in front of him, no were to hide, as if he could see everything that i would love to hide, i felt fear after our meeting as i started to spin about could he really see true me, true my masks, that's dangerous for my ego, i am unprotected.

    But before i met Tony i had already a picture of how spiritual teacher should be like as i read so many new age books and it's all about feeling good every moment if not then relaxing, going shopping, going on a vacation, meditating, basically escaping from what is really going on. But working with Tony as i have learned there is no where to hide or escape, if we truly remember our intention which for me is to be free and real.

    I am thankful to the Universe for bringing into my life a true Guru Tony Samara.

  6. Petra says:

    Beautiful blog. You are a beautiful man :)
    Thank you.

  7. Diana Mercer Diana says:

    This is such a lovely and honest story Ben. I so appreciate your willingness to look at yourself with gentle honesty, and and to press on toward clarity. What a rare and special meeting. Thank you.

  8. Allison Fortuna says:

    This was an engaging, soul-touching article. Not only is your writing and descriptions beautiful but the story itself has so much meaning in which I believe all the human population can relate. I could not agree more on how the Western civilization misuses the word Guru. I have never been, but hope I am blessed to go to India one day. Only then will you truly understand. I yearn to be free and I feel something coming I feel I have a great teacher in my life but do not believe he is my guru. I can only pray that I experience what you did someday. Thank you very much for sharing your story please continue to post more!

  9. Hi, Ben. This is beautifully written and fascinating.

    I hate to rain on your parade, but I find myself troubled by the fact that your guru lets you get away with the idea that so many things different than yourself are "grey, dull, and cynical", including, apparently, the entire commercial world and most other yoga teachers besides Tony himself and a rare handful of others. To me this seems like a gross distortion of reality in itself.

    I would suggest the opposite–that every human being has a fascinating story to tell, and that the commercial world as a whole is utterly diverse, undull, and ungrey.

    I only presume to write this because your whole piece is about discovering reality. I hope you don't mind the intrusion.



  10. Dario Jovović says:

    Thank you Ben for your very nice article.
    I heard of Tony Samara three days ago, on TV. After a few moments I realized that he takes water directly from our Universal Spring.
    A great human being Taisen Deshimaru once said "To receive everything, one must open one's hands and give." That is nicely visible with Tony, his spontaneous wish to share the beauty of existence with others. When, in silence of shikantaza, we observe our conceptualized 'reality' it slowly starts to disolve and the shining emptyness, pure consciousness itself, takes it over. That is also beautifully visible with Tony, his movements, speech…and 'that magic space' in between the words are all impregnated with consciousness.
    He also spoke about shamanic approach to the plants. As I always deeply enjoy in communion with sun (sungazing) and trees (tree hugging) there I also saw his deep wisdom of the life itself and its different, beautiful components. Let the Buddha blesses him.

  11. Scott Robinson YesuDas says:

    Beautiful, Ben. I look forward to reading more! What an amazing experience; I am envious.

    This reminds me of Russill Paul's book "Jesus in the Lotus," where he describes walking through an Indian city (I forget which one) with his mentor Fr. Bede Griffiths, and in the middle of the street a beggar approached them; when he looked into Fr. Bede's eyes, he did the same thing–paused and prostrated, while Russill was treated to the sight of this white-haired Englishman in a saffron robe, blessing a beggar in the middle of the street while drivers blared their car horns!

  12. Ben Ralston Ben_Ralston says:

    Hey YesuDas,

    Wednesdays at 18.00 CET you can hear Tony speak live. It's a blessing. I always feel like my mind and soul have had a bath afterwards, and meditation comes more easily. I think you'll like him – here's the link:

  13. sarah says:

    "When the student is ready – the teacher will appear"

    What a beautiful story to describe this happening to you.

    With love and gratitude

  14. Erikalynn says:

    Thank you Ben, and thank you for all the interesting posts, everyone, and your commited replies to all of them, Ben. And thank you for not caring about what other people think but still standing straight. And thank you Tony for giving out a limp hand and a warm heart.

  15. sabina says:

    It made me think…sometimes i feel that being in Tony s presence really triggers lots of things on surface…both beautifull and some less beautifull things 😀 from inside, which with acceptance bring healing…
    and for me …it is by now…always the same process from being closed to being opened…and I wonder will i ever stay open, and not close again…or is it just the way life is for now…and Thank you Ben for reflecting on your ego, it realy helps to know that one is not alone in this …

  16. Ben Ralston Ben_Ralston says:

    Hi Katherine,
    I think you subscribe to the idea of Guru as "Good teacher" rather than highly evolved or even enlightened. Because if you knew how rare a true guru is, you'd know that we certainly don't meet them all the time!
    And another thing that I must pick you up on – I didn't consider myself more evolved than the old man (spiritually or otherwise) – he thought that about me 😉 ~ I was actually totally shocked and surprised at the time.
    And as for your question about how the old man didn't leave me with the same impression as Tony? Well, that's exactly it – when you meet a real master, there's no comparison.

  17. Ha ha ha! :)) Beautiful! Love it! Thank you so much for sharing this heart warming story that made me laugh out loud in love and recognition.

    Loving you….

  18. samgeppi says:

    Hi Ben,
    Glad to see you are also a Sivananda teacher. Me too, a graduate in 2001 .

    I posted an article last week on the same subject that addresses the subject in a similar way. I hope you don't mind that I post the link here. I think your readers will like it.

  19. TamingAuthor says:

    Very strange reaction on my part. I reserve judgment and will wait anxiously to hear your update in eighteen months. The follow-up to this story will be much, much more important than the original. My sense is that you will have much more to share, maybe unexpected wisdom.

  20. Roman says:

    Thank you for these beautiful words… very inspiring…

  21. […] The moment I met a true Guru (and the world stopped). […]

  22. Vera Helena Bergmann says:

    thank you Tony, I liked mostly the passage about the eastern and western way of being socialized .. and copied it onto my wall with your name and Aleia`s name in the end – I saw your informations published there. There IS a deep need for REliance to the essence of life ~ thanks for sharing your wisdom. Helena.

  23. […] The moment I met a true Guru (and the world stopped). […]

  24. […] double-edged sword of DVD production that effectively undercuts the ability of a teacher to deliver effective yoga instruction. If a DVD yoga teacher gives plenty of instruction, modifications, and explanations of why students […]

  25. […] The moment I met a true Guru (and the world stopped). […]

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